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Selecting XML Data

We know that we can select data in SQL Server 2000 using the SELECT statement. We can also select data and have it formatted as XML, using the FOR XML clause. The FOR XML clause is only valid in a SELECT statement (it can not be used with INSERT, UPDATE, etc.) and returns the results of the SELECT statement in a variety of XML formats, which we will cover shortly.


Let's take a look at the following familiar SELECT statement:


SELECT Employee_ID, First_Name_VC, Last_Name_VC

FROM Employee_T


Execution of this SELECT statement in the Query Analyzer produces the following results. These are the standard results that we are used to seeing:


Employee_ID First_Name_VC Last_Name_VC

----------- --------------- ---------------

1 Thearon Willis

2 Michael Dell

4 Cheryl Carson


If we take the same SELECT statement shown above and add the FOR XML clause:


SELECT Employee_ID, First_Name_VC, Last_Name_VC



we see a totally different set of results:




<row Employee_ID="1" First_Name_VC="Thearon" Last_Name_VC="Willis"/><row Employee_ID="2" First_Name_VC="Michael" Last_Name_VC="Dell"/>"/><row Employee_ID="4" First_Name_VC="Cheryl" Last_Name_VC="Carson"/>


Notice that our data now looks similar to our XML example that we displayed earlier. In the output above, row is an element and the remaining data has been specified as attributes of that element. Each row of data in our Employee_T table has been specified as a separate row element.


The actual amount of data that is displayed in the results window of the Query Analyzer is limited. To increase the display limit click on the Tools menu and select the Options menu item. Then click on the Results tab and enter a large value, such as 1000, in the Maximum characters per column text box. Then click the OK button to close the Options dialog.


The syntax for the FOR XML clause is shown next:




In the syntax above the mode argument specifies the shape of the XML data returned. There are three possible values for mode: RAW, AUTO, and EXPLICIT. The RAW mode produces XML results that are formatted using default element names, while AUTO mode produces results using the table and column names as the element and attribute names. EXPLICIT mode is much more complex and you must specify the element names and nesting required. In short, you must specify the shape of the XML document in your query.


The partial results shown below (for just one row in the table) represent data formatted using RAW and AUTO modes respectively:


<row Employee_ID="1" First_Name_VC="Thearon" Last_Name_VC="Willis"/>


<Employee_T Employee_ID="1" First_Name_VC="Thearon" Last_Name_VC="Willis"/>


The optional XMLDATA, ELEMENTS, and BINARY Base64 arguments can only be used with the AUTO mode. These arguments further define how the XML data should be formatted. For example, the XMLDATA argument specifies that an XML-Data schema should be returned with your XML data, while the ELEMENTS argument specifies that your XML data be returned in elements, instead of as attributes on a single element. The BINARY Base64 argument specifies that binary data be returned in the binary base64-encoded format, and this is the default argument for AUTO mode. Binary base64 is a standard content transfer encoding method used to encode data to be sent to a browser. The browser then decodes the data and displays it in a readable form.


Try It Out Using the FOR XML Clause

To illustrate the points discussed so far, let's create and execute some simple queries in the Query Analyzer that use the FOR XML clause. We will use the SELECT query that we saw earlier. If you have not already done so, increase the maximum characters that are displayed in the results window in the Query Analyzer.


The first query that we want to run will use the AUTO mode in the FOR XML clause. Enter and execute the following query:

SELECT Employee_ID, First_Name_VC, Last_Name_VC



You should see results similar to those shown overleaf. Due to limited space, only partial results are shown. Depending on the amount of data in your Employee_T table, you should be able to see most, if not all, of the data in the results window by scrolling the window:




<Employee_T Employee_ID="1" First_Name_VC="Thearon" Last_Name_VC="Willis"/><Employee_T Employee_ID="2" First_Name_VC="Michael" Last_Name_VC="Dell"/>


Each element in the results represents one row from the Employee_T table, and the element name is the table name. This has been done automatically for you because you specified the AUTO argument.

Now enter and execute the following query. It might be useful to open a new query window instead of clearing the current query window. This will allow you to switch between the various query windows to view the different results that are generated.

SELECT Employee_ID, First_Name_VC, Last_Name_VC



This example not only displays the XML data but it also returns a schema that further defines the elements and attributes of your XML data. When you run your query, the schema is displayed first, followed by the ElementType and then the AttributeType.

Notice in the partial results below, taken from the schema, that the AttributeType for each of the columns specified in the SELECT statement is displayed. Each AttributeType has a name assigned and the data type specified. We'll be discussing AttributeType later in this chapter.

<AttributeType name="Employee_ID" dt:type="i4"/><AttributeType name="First_Name_VC" dt:type="string"/><AttributeType name="Last_Name_VC" dt:type="string"/>


The next query that we want to execute is shown below and uses the ELEMENTS argument. Enter and execute this query:

SELECT Employee_ID, First_Name_VC, Last_Name_VC



This query displays all of the XML data as elements and looks very similar to the first example that we saw in this chapter:





So what we have seen here is that by using the FOR XML clause on a SELECT statement, we can return XML formatted data directly in the Query Analyzer. We can also display XML data formatted in a variety of ways depending on the intended use of the data, such as displaying it in a browser or sending it through a B2B application.


Selecting XML Data in a URL

When we set up a virtual directory for SQL Server in the last chapter, we selected data from the database in a URL to test the successful implementation of our virtual directory. This is where the real power of SQL Server and XML comes into play. This section takes a look at the basics of using the URL to return XML data from SQL Server.


As we saw in the last chapter, we can execute queries from a browser using the virtual directory that we set up. The query that we executed in the last chapter was entered in the URL as:


http://localhost/htdata?sql=SELECT * FROM Employee_T WHERE Employee_ID=1 FOR XML AUTO


When we pressed the Enter key, Internet Explorer replaced all spaces in the URL with a hexadecimal value of %20. This is because we cannot use spaces in a URL. This makes the URL cluttered and hard to read. What we can do is use the special character of a plus sign (+) to represent a space. The browser will not replace this special character with its equivalent hexadecimal value and our URL is much easier to read.


There are also a few other special characters that we should look at before continuing. The following table lists the special characters that will be used throughout the rest of this chapter:


Special Character

Hexadecimal Value




Indicates a space.



Separates directories and subdirectories.



Separator between the actual URL and the parameters.



Specifies special characters. Anytime that you need to use a character in your query that is a reserved character, you specify a percent sign followed by the hexadecimal value for that character.



Separator between parameters specified in the URL.


When we display XML data, a top-level element, known as a root element or root node, is required. The example shown in the figure earlier indicates that Employees is the root element and under Employees there were many Employee elements that each represented a single employee. XML is like a tree we start with a single root and then we grow and branch out from there.


The example URL above only extracted one record (where the employee ID = 1) and displayed it in the browser. Let's take a look at an example that will select certain columns and all rows from the Employee_T table and display the results in a browser.


Try It Out SELECT Statement in a URL

In this exercise we want to enter a query in a URL that will select the Employee_ID, First_Name_VC, and Last_Name_VC columns for all rows in the Employee_T table.


1.       To illustrate our point about the root element in an XML document, enter the following URL in a browser:



You will receive this error message, "Only one top level element is allowed in an XML document. Line 1, Position 77, and your XML data will be displayed as one continuous line of data. This error indicates that the XML is not well-formed and that a root element is required.

2.       In order to resolve this problem we can specify the Root keyword as a parameter in our URL. The name that you assign to the Root keyword should describe the data being displayed.

Enter the following URL in a browser:



You should now see the data from the Employee_T table displayed as XML in the browser, as shown in the following screenshot. Notice that Employees is the name of the root element. You can experiment with this by giving the root a different name and running the query again.


Now that we have executed a query in a URL and displayed XML data in a browser, let's take a more detailed look at the URL syntax. The syntax below shows the basic URL that can be executed:


http://iisserver/virtualroot?{sql=SQLString | template=XMLTemplate} [&param=value[&param=value]...n]


In this syntax, iisserver represents the machine name that IIS is installed on. If IIS is installed on your local machine then you can specify localhost for iisserver, otherwise you would specify the machine name where IIS is installed.


The virtualroot argument specifies the virtual directory. In our case this virtual directory was set up, in the last chapter, with a name of htData.


The optional ?sql argument specifies that a SQL string or stored procedure is to be executed. This is followed by the SQLString argument, which specifies the actual SQL string or stored procedure that will be executed.


The optional argument, ?template, specifies an XML document that contains a query string to be executed. The query string can be a SQL statement, stored procedure, or a table name. This is a more secure way of allowing users access to our data and we'll cover this later in the chapter.


The optional ?param arguments represent parameter names or keywords. Valid keywords are ContentType, OutputEncoding, Root, and XSL. ContentType specifies the content type of the returned documents. There are various options for this but the one that we will be using is text/XML, which identifies the document as text and HTML. OutputEncoding indicates what character set is to be used for the output. The encoding used by default is UTF-8. The Root keyword, as we have seen, allows us to specify the root element for our XML document. The XSL keyword allows us to specify an XSL document that will be used to format the results of our XML document. We'll be using this keyword in the next section.

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